Russian missiles rained down across Ukraine on Saturday, hitting military installations in the west and north as well as a southern city as Europe’s biggest ground conflict since World War II entered its fifth month .
Russian artillery and airstrikes pounded the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Lugansk region on Friday, crushing a chemical plant where hundreds of civilians were trapped, a Ukrainian official said on Saturday.
Ukraine said on Friday its troops had been ordered to withdraw from Severodonetsk as there was very little left to defend after weeks of heavy fighting, marking the biggest turnaround for Ukraine since losing the port of Mariupol. in May.
News of the withdrawal came four months to the day since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops across the border, sparking a conflict that has killed thousands, uprooted millions of people and disrupted the global economy.
“Forty-eight cruise missiles. Night. Across Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Russia is always trying to intimidate Ukraine, cause panic and scare people.”
Lysychansk in danger
The latest Russian advances appear to bring Moscow closer to taking full control of Luhansk, one of Putin’s goals, and setting the stage for Lysychansk to become the next main objective.
Vitaly Kiselev, an Interior Ministry official in the breakaway Luhansk People’s Republic – recognized only by Russia – told Russian news agency TASS it would take another week and a half to gain full control of Lysychansk.
Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said Russian forces attacked the Severodonetsk industrial zone and also tried to enter and blockade Lysychansk on Saturday.
“There was an airstrike in Lysychansk. Severodonetsk was hit by artillery,” Gaidai said on the Telegram messaging app, adding that the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk and the villages of Synetsky and Pavlograd and d others had been bombed.
He made no mention of casualties at the Azot plant and Reuters could not immediately verify the information. Gaidai said police, rescuers and volunteers helped 17 people leave Lysychansk on Friday.
Kharatin Starskyi, the press secretary of a Ukrainian National Guard brigade, said on television on Saturday that the flow of information about the withdrawal from Severodonetsk had been delayed to protect troops on the ground.
“During the last [several] days, an operation was carried out to withdraw our troops,” Starskyi said.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what it called a “special military operation”, but abandoned an early advance on the capital Kyiv in the face of fierce resistance from Ukrainian fighters with the help of Western weapons. .
Pressure to conclude a “bad” peace agreement
Since then, Moscow and its proxies have focused on the south and Donbass, an eastern territory made up of Luhansk and its neighbor Donetsk, deploying overwhelming artillery.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday he feared Ukraine would come under pressure to agree to a peace deal with Russia that would not be in Kyiv’s interests, due to the economic consequences of the war in Europe.
“I know the cost of food has gone up, the cost of fuel. Everybody is looking at this, I mean, too many countries are looking at this thing now and saying, this is a European war that is not needed; it’s an economic warfare problem that we don’t need.
“And so the pressure will increase to try to encourage, maybe coerce the Ukrainians into a bad peace,” Johnson said, speaking from the Rwandan capital Kigali, where he is attending a Commonwealth summit.
Johnson said that if Putin managed to break into Ukraine it would be dangerous for international security and “a long-term economic disaster”.
Bombings of cities across Ukraine
On Saturday, Russia again fired missiles at military and civilian infrastructure in the north near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, as far as Severodonetsk in the east, the forces’ headquarters said. Ukrainian armies.
Several regional governors reported bombings of towns across Ukraine on Saturday.
While Russia denies targeting civilians, Kyiv and the West say Russian forces have committed war crimes against civilians.
Governor of Lviv region in western Ukraine Maxim Kozytskyi said in a video uploaded that six missiles were fired from the Black Sea at the Yavoriv base near the border with Poland . Four hit the target but two were destroyed.
Vitaliy Bunechko, governor of Zhytomyr region in the north of the country, said strikes on a military target killed at least one soldier.
“Almost 30 missiles were launched at a military infrastructure facility very close to the city of Zhytomyr,” Bunechko said. Nearly 10 missiles were intercepted and destroyed, he said.
In the south, Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of Mykolaiv near the Black Sea, said five cruise missiles hit the city and nearby areas on Saturday. The number of victims is still being determined.